ALERT: Supreme Court Kills Mississippi’s Ballot Initiative Process

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The Mississippi Supreme Court just struck down the state’s constitutional ballot initiative process stating the process “cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress.” 

Justice Josiah Coleman said, “To work in today’s reality, it will need amending – something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.” This then led to the Court’s decision on the entire ballot initiative process: “The reduction in Mississippi’s congressional representation renders it unworkable and inoperable on its face.”

The backstory here is that Mississippi had five congressional districts at the time the law was written in 1992 but went down to four after congressional districts were redrawn following the 2000 census. Mississippi’s constitution states that signature gathering for ballot initiatives must occur in five congressional districts. Since 2000, Mississippi has only had four districts. The language referring to the initiative process was never amended. The power to change that wording lied in the state’s legislature – which ignored the language issue that led to this ruling.

The reason it even came to the court is because Madison Mayor, Mary Hawkins-Butler,  reacting to the passed medical marijuana Initiative 65 that passed with 73% of voters – sued to block this initiative by attacking the initiative process itself.

Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which works with local partners to leverage ballot measures as part of a larger movement to strengthen democracy and center marginalized communities stated, “While this ruling has an immediate impact on Initiative 65 and the future of the ballot initiative process in Mississippi, it could also mean that this ruling has the effect of eliminating the citizen initiative process in Mississippi and all Mississippi ballot measures that passed in 2020 could be negated if challenged in court. We cannot let this happen. The voice of the People should not be silenced. 

What is happening in Mississippi is not an isolated incident. All across the country, People-powered democracy is under attack including direct democracy itself. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is tracking 125 bills in 28 states seeking to alter the ballot initiative process, an overwhelming majority would make it harder for the People to have their voices heard. The people reserve unto themselves the power to propose and enact constitutional amendments by initiative. Mississippians cannot lose this vital tool.

With a constitutional amendment backing an extremely popular Medicaid expansion on the horizon, we fear that the ballot initiative process will continue to remain unfixed, and even if addressed, will likely make the ballot initiative process as restrictive as possible in an effort to protect their own interests and power and negate the will of the People.

BISC can provide more in-depth analysis on the ruling in Mississippi as well as the current attacks on direct democracy and the ballot initiative process across the country. To speak with our Policy and Legal Advocacy Director, Corrine Rivera Fowler, please contact [email protected]